Closing a chapter

Birth and death are both profound and painful experiences.

Laila Faisal


“This is my partner, Laila” Martin would introduce me to the nurses and doctors at the hospice.

I’ve known Martin for more than twenty years. We’ve been friends, a couple, partners, husband and wife, separated, and recently partners again. We’ve been through a lot in the past twenty years. But nothing has brought us closer than birth and death.


Our child was born in 2008, two weeks earlier than expected.

I was shopping for baby clothes online when I first started feeling cramps. Martin was away at band practice. Being a first time mum, I just thought the baby was stretching out after dinner. A couple of hours of persistent cramps, I figured maybe this was what they call contractions. I didn’t have anybody to ask. It was 11pm.

Martin came home just after midnight. I told him about the cramps and suggested the baby might be coming early. He stared at me like a deer in the headlights.

“Here’s the hospital bag,” I said, holding out the backpack with all of the essentials we learned from ante-natal classes.

“We need to pack the hospital bag” he stammered, completely oblivious of what I was waving in front of him.

“Yes,” I said, “ I’ve already done that,” holding the bag up again.

“Oh! Right!” he replied “have you called Noreen?” She’s our midwife.

“Nah, it’s past midnight, I don’t want to wake her up.” Contractions weren’t really that close yet, and it’s not like I’m in unbearable pain. “Why don’t you go to sleep?”

Long story short, he went to sleep; I paced in the living room when contractions hit. I called Noreen at 6am. She was surprised that I was having contractions already. Baby wasn’t due for another two weeks. She suggested a warm bath to alleviate some of the pain.

That’s where I was when she came over an hour later. She checked and said that we needed to get to the hospital for delivery ASAP. Apparently I was already 8cm dilated, and considered to be in active labour.

We wanted a natural delivery. I have a high pain tolerance and didn’t want any epidural pain relief in the delivery process. I soaked again in a bath in the hospital’s delivery suite. The room was dimly lit so that the baby would have a gentle introduction to the world. I can imagine being exposed to the big wide world might already be a wrenching experience.

Martin was fully engaged with the birthing process. Baby was delivered safely mid afternoon after a lot of pushing and an episiotomy.

I asked “Is it a boy or a girl?”

“I’ll show you” Noreen said as she placed the little thing on my tummy. Martin didn’t say a word. He wasn’t sure he saw right.

He’s only had boys in his family: two older brothers, two sons from a previous relationship, and three nephews. He was so sure that we would have a boy. We decided on the name Jamie (boy) or Jaime (girl) early in the pregnancy so we can address the bump by name.

I took one look, and Jaime it was!

Jaime had Martin wrapped around her tiny little fingers. He was quite the besotted dad and I’d say the feeling was mutual.


Jaime was four. Martin and I started drifting apart. I started thinking about leaving.

But something else came along.

Martin was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It didn’t feel like the right time to leave. I thought perhaps how I felt about him or how he treated me would change with his realisation of mortality. The doctor gave him about five years.

Two years later, our relationship still hadn’t improved. And after we hosted Jaime’s 6th birthday party I told him that I can’t live with him anymore.

Three months after her birthday I packed my eight years of living with him and moved out of his house.


While the separation wasn’t easy, we decided we would co-parent. Martin often had work on the weekends with his event management and band-work. We agreed that Jaime would come home from school to me on Thursday and go back to him after school on Monday.

There were a lot of hard feelings in the first year. I wanted to have nothing to do with him. He criticised my parenting style of allowing Jaime to stay up late on Sundays. He said I was doing that on purpose so that she was always tired and grumpy when she went back to him on Monday.

I didn’t tell him that Jaime couldn’t go to sleep on Sunday nights because she was in tears wanting to stay with me. That kept her up. Then she’d feel guilty about not wanting to go to him on Monday because she does love her dad. The guilt would keep her up even more. A vicious cycle.

It took more than a year before I could have a civil conversation with him. We started celebrating things together again: birthdays, Christmas, mother and father days.

Taking Jaime to her school leavers’ banquet (Year 8 in New Zealand) in December 2021.


Martin’s health had generally been well. He defied the five-year prognosis the oncologist gave him. Mid 2021 though, the cancer made its presence known again. Martin finally agreed on chemotherapy: ten sessions, every three weeks.

After ten sessions, it still was not looking great and a scan indicated that the cancer had spread to his organs. With COVID lurking, he didn’t want Jaime to potentially bring the virus to him as he was immuno-compromised. Jaime started staying with me full time in February and Martin would come over for weekend visits.

He started to develop Edema in April and things took a turn for the worst.

He wanted to stay in his house for as long as he could. It was a house designed by his late architect dad that they built thirty years ago. He had regular nurse and health care visits to help him with living comfortably. Edema was impacting his mobility. He was house-bound because his house was up a steep path of about 60 steps.

In June I offered to help him manage his affairs both physically in his house as well as digitally. He was finding it difficult navigating through his various online accounts. I’d go over to his place with a coffee and something for lunch and we’d talk through what needs to be done: from getting his will prepared and delivered to his lawyer, to propping his bed up so that he can get in and out of it more easily.

He wished to have a natural burial. I researched the options in Wellington. I found Broadbent and May, a funeral home in the same suburb. I called and arranged a meeting with Fiona King, the funeral director (watch her excellent TEDxWellington talk).

I felt totally at ease with Fiona. She offered to visit Martin to talk about his wishes. He wanted the simplest option possible, no complicated casket. I offered to make his canvas shroud. Fiona gave me a pattern, along with a length of canvas. I started working on it in mid July, thinking I’d have a couple of months.

Mid-day, on 25th July Martin called to say that the occupational therapist who regularly visits called for an emergency hospice assessment. She didn’t think he could manage living at home alone any longer, and needed a place in the hospice. The hospice assessment team would be coming over soon.

“Do you need company for that?” I asked.

“Probably a good idea.”

Shortly after I arrived, the hospice staff came. They asked him a few questions and then made a phone call requesting a room be made available for him that night.

It was surreal how fast things happened. An ambulance just happened to be five minutes away. Within the hour, I packed his bag and the ambulance staff led him downstairs to the ambulance.

We arrived at the hospice and were shown to Room 8. Because of COVID restrictions, the hospice was limiting one family per room, even if the room had space for four patients. Only three named visitors were allowed to visit, and we had to take a COVID test every day.

Jaime and I became very familiar with that room and the staff in the weeks that followed. We were there everyday. Jaime would go there after school and we’d order something from the hospice kitchen for dinner. We would say goodbye to Martin at night, exit through the main door and then went to his window to wave goodbye and blow kisses. He’d smile, wave and blow a kiss back.

We celebrated our birthdays at the hospice. Mine on the 31st July, and his on 1st August.

Moments of awakeness decreased; slowly at first, and then rapidly. It was clear that I needed to finish his canvas shroud a lot quicker.

He started having delirious paranoid dreams. One night he thought he was being kept hostage in a cabin in the middle of a forest. He ended up on the floor. For someone who hasn’t been able to get out of bed without three hospice staff helping him, that was an incredible feat. The bed railings went up after that.

The next night he woke up, grabbed his phone and called emergency services asking for an ambulance to rescue him.

When these dreams started, I decided that I’d stay the nights with him; so that he had someone there when these dreams came, to remind him where he was and pull him back gently to reality. Every time he was talking in his sleep about something, I’d reach out and stroke his hand. He’d open his eyes, and I’d greet him with a cheerful “Hi!” Seeing me, he’d smile and say “Hello!”

“Do you know where we are?” I’d ask. He’d sometimes get it right. When he got it wrong, I’d remind him.

One time he woke up with a start and asked me where we were. I said Mary Potter Hospice, Mein St, Newtown, Wellington, New Zealand.

“Bugger!” He exclaimed. “I thought we were in New York!”

“But you haven’t been to New York yet.”

“Exactly… bugger!”

Jaime came with me to stay the nights at the hospice because she wanted to be with us. I’d cuddle her to sleep first in her hospital bed nearby, then move to the lazy boy next to Martin’s bed after she had fallen asleep. In addition to his delirious sleep talk, he also started breathing loudly in his sleep, moaning and groaning. But Jaime wore a noise cancelling headset playing lo-fi music and slept through the nights. Even I got used to the noise. It was just like the good ole days when I slept through his snoring.

When I wasn’t at the hospice, I was embroidering the hem of his canvas shroud and weaving the tie bands for it. I finished it on Tuesday night.

Inkle loom weaving
Weaving bands on my homemade inkle loom. I like to think I was weaving my heart and love into those bands that would secure him in his shroud.

Martin passed away peacefully in his sleep on Thursday morning, 11th August.

I wasn’t there when it happened.

Simon, his oldest brother, had arrived from Auckland. He said I needed to sleep in my own bed Wednesday night to get a good night’s rest. Simon said he would take over watching over Martin that night.

Jaime and I stayed with Martin till Simon came back to the hospice after getting dinner and packing an overnight bag. I sat knitting next to his bed as I would often do while at hospice. Jaime sat in the lazy boy watching Harry Potter on my laptop on the other side. Martin reached out a hand to her, and she held it as he slept.

We left the hospice when Simon arrived. He asked me if I wanted to be woken up in the middle of the night should anything happen. I emphatically said yes.

I slept all the way to 7am. Simon texted me at 8am to say that the nurse had come in to check on Martin. She thought that he wouldn’t be passing soon, though it may happen later that night. I said I’ll come over when Jaime has woken up.

At 9.38am a text pinged:

Nurse Rachel thinks good idea to come now

I decided to leave Jaime asleep at home. I called a friend to ask her to sit at my place so that she wasn’t alone when she woke up.

At 9.46am I was standing in the pouring rain waiting for the Uber to come down the road when another text pinged

I’m so sorry Martin has died

He was still warm when I arrived in Room 8. The room was eerily quiet. No heavy breathing. No moaning. I stroked his hand. No smile or “Hello!” was returned.

Outside, the sun had broken through the clouds. Stretching above the hills, was a rainbow. Martin was free.

Rainbow over hills

Birth and death are both profound and painful experiences. Still, I wouldn’t have them any other way. At birth, Martin and I did all we could to ensure Jaime had a beautiful and natural entry into the world. At death, I did all I could to ensure Martin had a well supported end of life. I also did it for Jaime, so that she could see her dad was well looked after as he left the world.

My deepest gratitude to all the wonderful staff at Mary Potter Hospice, Wellington.



Laila Faisal

Hi all, I am mum and BFF to a gorgeous girl. I'm exploring content creation and mid-way through an EdD. I'm reflecting on death since my ex-husband died.